PHOENIX (AP) — The U.S. government said Friday it had sent nine Venezuelans — including two families — back to Mexico after they tried to make an asylum claim by driving up to a customs officer instead of lingering south of the border on a list waiting to be called up under a Trump administration policy targeting asylum-seekers.
That practice — and that of other desperate asylum-seekers who have run down vehicle lanes at an Arizona port of entry in order to reach the U.S. — severely slowed down traffic over the holiday weekend after Customs and Border Protection sealed off several lanes of traffic.
Advocates say the asylum-seekers forced wait on a list under a Trump policy known as metering are desperate and afraid of waiting in Mexico for months before they’re even given a chance to make an asylum claim. Migrants forced to wait in Mexico are often targeted for extortion, kidnapping and robberies.
Customs and Border Protection says asylum-seekers who drive or run up to officers pose safety risks.
“It is disrespectful to those who have waited in line to be seen, and to the officers working diligently to process everyone in a safe and secure manner, to attempt skipping to the front of the line this way,” spokeswoman Meredith Mingledorff said in an email.
Mingledorff said the Venezuelans arrived in a car at an Arizona port of entry in a group of three families and two single adults on Wednesday. They were then bused roughly 340 miles (547 kilometers) to El Paso, Texas, and returned to Ciudad Juarez, where thousands of other asylum-seekers are waiting in tent camps. She added that using cars to reach the port of entry “will not allow asylum-seekers automatic entrance into the United States.”
An estimated 4.6 million Venezuelans have fled the crisis-torn country, where food and medicine extremely scarce.
The policy under which the Venezuelans who crossed on Wednesday were returned to Mexico is widely known as “Remain in Mexico.” It forces asylum-seekers to wait south of the border while the U.S. immigration cases are heard. An estimated 55,000 asylum-seekers have been returned to Mexico since the policy, which is being challenged in federal court, was implemented in February in some parts of the border. It was expanded to Arizona last week, when agents in the Tucson Sector began busing migrants to El Paso to be returned to Juarez. The government won’t say how many people have been taken from Arizona to El Paso.
Migrants forced to wait in Mexico are often met with the same violence and corruption they fled. A report by the Human Rights First released this week documented at least 636 public reports of violence against asylum-seekers returned to Mexico including rape, kidnapping and torture. Human Rights First said that was a steep increase over October, when the group had identified 343 attacks, and noted the latest figure is surely an under-count because most crime victims don’t report.